Data Dependency

by Stephen Mulva, CII Director

Warren Buffet once said that “risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” What’s the secret to knowing what you’re doing when it comes to capital projects? I think that’s easy; it’s data. Don’t believe me? Look at the huge valuations of leading tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. Their valuations are not the result of their earnings, but rather, the massive amounts of data they gather and use to their advantage every day. The future of our industry, and its ability to understand and mitigate sizeable risk, is dependent on data. But, historically, we haven’t done a great job of collecting, organizing, or analyzing data – neither at the individual firm level nor collectively across the industry. That needs to change.
From 2007 through 2016, I was responsible for directing CII’s Performance Assessment (Benchmarking) Program where our objective was to obtain and evaluate project performance data. While we learned a ton and helped countless CII members and the industry, I always wished that we had more data. That’s because I came to really know that “what gets measured, gets improved.” Safety improvement across the industry provides a great example. When CII first measured our members’ Total Recordable Incidence Rate (TRIR), the industry injured 14.7 workers out of 100 in each year worked. CII member companies in recent years have been reporting one (1) worker injured out of 400 each year. While we’re still not satisfied because the number isn’t at zero (0), the common industry approach to data, its measurement, and its importance, truly did help drive this remarkable turnaround in safety.
Since 2018, CII has been planning, designing, and building the first Data Warehouse of its kind for the Engineering and Construction business. Unlike benchmarking of the past, data entry is electronic; not manual. Tied to data resident in various legacy systems, BIM packages, and construction management software, CII will soon be able to import members’ data through API’s into the Data Warehouse. Rather than being reliant on standardized reports or manual interpretation from experts, we are building the capability for individual users to create their own comparisons using business intelligence (BI) software. In the years ahead, researchers will be able to create algorithms, models and simulations that companies can use with the resident data to make projections about their projects. A lot of this functionality is possible because we’re using one of the largest academic computing resources in the world at the University of Texas at Austin’s state-of-the-art Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). When the CII Data Warehouse launches later this year, it will be the breakthrough that our industry requires.
Throughout this process of creating the Data Warehouse, our staff at CII and TACC has relied on the counsel of our members for technical issues and operational advice. The result is an unmatched ability to collect and maintain contemporary data regarding:

 1. Support for estimate validation regarding facility expected cost and performance
 2. Data-driven approach to scope definition regarding facility size and capacity
 3. Ownership of data resides with the companies who submitted them per Texas law
 4. Integration with member legacy systems and commercial software packages
 5. Measurement of operational data including energy consumption and carbon accounting
 6. Common approach to data collection from different industry sectors
 7. Support for lifecycle assessments and certifications such as USGBC LEED and BREEAM
 8. Feedback loops to enable the near “real-time” planning and sanction of facility projects

The extraordinary resources of TACC are powering the data renaissance at CII and in our industry. CII is able to leverage the hundreds of millions of dollars of IT investment at TACC for an unmatched (low) price for our members. In the long-run, data “crutches” such as cost normalization or the annual indexing of information (e.g., to a 1.0 standard) become unnecessary when enough data are gathered each month. In fact, analyses of market dynamics (i.e., understanding if the market for specific facilities is “heating up” or “cooling down”) will become routine. Most importantly, these data cannot be sold. Precisely because CII is a not-for-profit headquartered at a leading public university, it is the very best place for your data to reside.
In closing, let me invite you and your organization to participate if you aren’t already involved. Collaboration is the name of the game when it comes to data. In fact, many of the auto companies such as GM, Ford, BMW, Honda and Renault are working together to appropriately share data gathered from automated driving because of the schedule advantage afforded to each of them. Experts believe this collaboration will cut the development time needed to create a sellable self-driving car by 50% or more. Our industry is no different. We can revolutionize the capital projects business. But if first depends on you – and your data. Are you in?

Date posted: May 1, 2020